We all knew the NBA’s 2020-21 regular season was going to be different. It has lived up to the billing, for better or worse.
A ton transpired because of the short off-season, strict COVID-19 protocols, and the newly-implemented play-in tournament. Plenty of teams had an up-an-down season and it led to a tight race all throughout the standings, which goes for both conferences.
The regular season will end on May 17 (Manila time). Teams have less than 10 games remaining and there are few guarantees as to what the final seedings will be. When was the last time that happened?
Let’s go through the most intriguing storylines:
The no. 1 seed
The no.1 seed for each conference is still up for grabs, and it’s as important as ever as it guarantees home court advantage up until the finals. Playing in your backyard is key, as you know, since things rapidly change in the postseason.
In the Eastern Conference, the battle is between the Brooklyn Nets and Philadelphia 76ers (Nets lead by one game). It’s nothing short of interesting given the former has the most loaded offense in the league while the latter has ranked as a top five defense all season.
The West, meanwhile, has the Utah Jazz and Phoenix Suns (Jazz lead by one game). Unlike the East, these two mirror each other as they have a high-scoring guard (Donovan Mitchell and Devin Booker), a veteran point guard (Mike Conley and Chris Paul), a defensive big man (Rudy Gobert and DeAndre Ayton), and a team-oriented style of play.
The 3 vs. 6 and 4 vs. 5 match-ups in the West
This is pretty exciting, and it’s all about avoiding the LA Clippers in the first round, who are roaming around the 3rd and 4th seed.
What’s tricky, though, is the three teams who are interchanging the 5, 6, and 7 spots (Mavericks, Lakers, and Blazers), all need to win no matter what because the margin between them is close and they don’t want to fall into the play-in bracket.
Here’s another thing: are they really sure that the alternative, which will likely be the Denver Nuggets, is a more favorable opponent?
The play-in spots
As seen in the standings above, the current play in teams are the Blazers, Grizzlies, Spurs, and Warriors (West), and Heat, Hornets, Pacers and Wizards.
The play-in teams might be seen as the cast-offs who somehow got into where the big boys play, particularly if at least one of the lower-seeded squads get in. However, it is also arguable that the current no. 10s (Warriors and Wizards) are quite capable of cracking heralded opponents.
Don’t get discouraged about the Warriors’ recent losses, even that embarrassing rout they got from the Mavs. They have the best shooter the game has ever seen in Stephen Curry, who can explode at any time, and whose scoring barrages rattle defenses, as evident in their road victory over the Sixers weeks back.
As for the Wizards, they have two aggressive stars who can impose their will on any given play. Bradley Beal is an absolute scoring machine with a smooth midrange and three-point shot, while Russell Westbrook is a speedy locomotive that will collect points, rebounds, and assists like no one’s business. They have surged their team’s momentum and confidence after a rocky start, leading Washington to a 10-2 record in their last 12 games.
Expect things to keep changing over the next two weeks. Though injuries slowed things down in the middle of the season, it’ll now pick-up as teams are jockeying for a better playoff position. There are still legitimately 20 teams fighting for their final seeding, and that’s pretty new territory for the NBA.